Friday, February 20, 2009

The Beach and Me

You know, I lived in a city with a beach for six years, and practically never visited the waves. My parents used to take me sometimes when I was a kid, and we would be one tiny family amongst thousands on the huge crowded beach. We would eat roasted peanuts and ice cream. My dad would chaperone my brother and me in the water, and my mum would watch from the shore.

Two trips I made last month have made me realize that I want to live in a city with a beach - or at least one that's close to a beach. Definitely not a landlocked city like Delhi. Where would I escape to, away from the dust and the grit of ordinary life?

Mountains? No, mountains are not for me. I like them, but they're too imposing to be calm and peaceful.

My parents used to have a thing for deserts. I've been to Rajasthan at least four-five times, thanks to them. Even when they took me to see mountains, they chose a desert - Leh. Leh, beautiful Leh. The name itself is so romantic.

I think I could sit for hours on a beach, just watching the waves. I don't even need alcohol, unlike a lot of my friends. A quiet beach, golden sand, noisy waves. Maybe a book - to hold, to read maybe a few sentences of, but not to get lost in. I used to daydream about owning my own island, complete with golden beach and palm trees. Considering global warming, I guess it's not that remote a possibility now, except for the beach and palm trees part.

Did I tell you about the time I lost my glasses to the Bay of Bengal? It happened in Puri last month. Early morning, the last day of our stay there. Only the die-hard beach fanatics were up early. Meanie and me, plus Blue as the male bodyguard. We went into the water, and Meanie wanted to go right up to the place where the waves formed. Just to have them go over her in an arc - you know, surfer style. We went further and further, and the spot seemed just a bit out of our reach. Or maybe it was so scary that we didn't want to get there.

Finally, I got irritated and left the others and went right up to that place, and a big wave went right over me, and I capsized like a boat, and it was scary-scary-awesome.

We stayed there for a while longer. Just as we were leaving, a HUGE wave came, and all three of us fell over. Scary to lose your balance in that much water. We swallowed some water and came up sputtering, and then Blue and I realized that our glasses were lost. Meanie, miraculously, had kept hers.

Blue and Meanie immediately started searching for them, but I started laughing at our idiocy. To go out into so much water and dare the waves to do something to us! But we were so insignificant to the waves that they had just made fun of us by making us half-blind. And now these two were bothering to search for the tiny little things in the vast ocean.

Of course, I could afford to laugh because I had my lenses to fall back upon. Poor Blue had to survive the entire journey back without his glasses.
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Sunday, February 08, 2009


I want it to rain. A long endless storm, complete with thunder and lightning. A storm so big that everything else ceases to matter. Something to clean up this place and drive all the negative things away.

The sky should become so dark that daylight is forgotten. The sound of the water must pound in my ears and remind me of waves crashing on jagged rocks. Bird calls and car noises must be silenced. The trees must fear for their very existence and bow before the wind in supplication. Leaves must scurry from place to place in search of shelter and finally, finding none, die a sodden death.

The purging should be complete, at whatever cost. Even if a few innocent things are washed away in the whirlwind. There must be no mercy.
• • •

Aayiram Kannumai

I'm sitting in a large well-lit room, surrounded by books and journals. A silent room, in which a lot of people are reading books or working on their laptops. It's a dark Jharkhand night outside - the end of an absentee winter. I have a fat blue book open in front of me - Labour and Industrial Laws by P K Padhi. A blue marker and a pen complete the picture of the faithful ghissu.

Suddenly, in the midst of learning about legal and illegal strikes, I get an image. No, not an image. It's complete with smells and sounds and feelings. I can even feel mosquito bites on my legs.

I'm sitting outside my grandmother's house in Kollam. It's dusk - after six. My grandmother always sits outside in the evenings. She lights the lamp at five-thirty, says her prayers, and then comes and sits outside in the gathering dusk. I sit with her sometimes. There is a half-wall near the gate, with blocks that make comfortable stools to sit on.

We are both sitting in companiable silence. The sun is rapidly setting behind the tall coconut tree in front of the house. Its orange rays come to me through the gaps in the coconut leaves. The call for prayer from the nearby mosque sounds in the distance. Closer, I can hear the sounds of footsteps and voices from the road outside. Mosquitoes bite my legs and arms, and I slap impatiently at them.

This could, really, be an evening from any year of my life - from one of the many summer holidays I've spent there, or maybe the snatched weekends. My favourite house in the whole wide world.

Back when I was a kid, that entire plot of land seemed to hold so many possibilities for excitement. The guava tree was easily climbable, and led up to a nice cosy place for reading on warm sun-dappled afternoons.  The ladder up to the water tank was a perpetual challenge that my brother and I posed to each other. The front yard of the house would become a shallow lake in the rainy season; we would make pristine white boats using fresh paper from our Malayalam tuition notebooks, and make them jostle happily in the water. The jasmine flowers had to be plucked in the evenings. Not that I was ever girly enough to want to wear them on my hair - my poor grandmother always had to give them away to the neighbourhood girls.

Lying in bed huddled under a thin sheet and listening to the rain outside. Being scared every time I had to go to the spooky back portion of the house at night. Reading a book and falling asleep with my glasses on and having grandmother remove them when she came in to sleep. Sitting on the verandah and daydreaming. Staring at the pools and valleys formed by sunlight on the guava leaves.

Were those times actually simpler, or does it just seem so now?

(Title Translation: With a Thousand Eyes. It's a beautiful, beautiful song about longing.)
• • •

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Beginning of the End

The big tree in front has started flowering. White flowers, whose pale petals have already started withering and falling to the ground. Last year, the carpet of white on the ground meant the end of the year, the seniors leaving, a whole bunch of treats. This year, they are the omen of the final goodbye that has to come in a month, give or take a few days.

Winter is over, pretty much. It hardly visited, in fact. It is already too hot to sit outside in the sun and read. The sweaters in the cupboard lie dusty and unused. I get nimbu pani instead of hot comforting soup. What from the last two years would I not want to re-live.

I would try to capture stray moments, as is my wont, except that I'm too busy to be able to do such small things. Next month, I shall wallow in the bittersweetness.
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